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Unwanted Allotment

The General Allotment Act of 1887 made Native Americans individual landowners.  The act stated that the head of each family would receive 160 acres of tribal land and each single person would receive 80 acres. Reservations lands not allotted to Native Americans were to be sold to the United States and subsequently opened for homesteading. Proceeds from the land sales were to be placed in trust and used by the government as an account for supplies provided to Indian people.

Four years later, the Executive Order of 1891 approved the allotment of the Fort Berthold Reservation, which began in 1894. In 1901 it was argued that the tribes on the Fort Berthold reservation didn’t have enough financial solvency, so it was suggested that a twelve mile wide strip of land on the north side of the reservation be sold, along with another 200,000 acres on the west. On this date in 1901, Congress passed a law that employed multiple special agents to visit reservations and negotiate sales of whatever land Congress declared surplus.

Veteran agent James McLaughlin came to Fort Berthold in June, 1902. He told the Three Tribes that they should sell 315,000 acres, which they opposed. Eventually they agreed to sell 208,000 acres at $1.25 per acre, which would provide farming equipment, with funds also going to individuals. The proposal was submitted to Congress, but was never ratified. Congress introduced a new bill to open reservation land for settlement, but the tribes rejected it since the government hadn’t gotten their consent. Eventually the Act of June 1, 1910 said every tribal member should receive 160 acres of farming land or 320 acres of grazing land above previous allotments along with the appraised values rather than flat sums. While this was supposed to be a victory, many felt anxious with the reservation shrinking into a thin strip along the river.

The loss of tribal lands has been a source of sorrow, made worse as more land was taken as the Garrison Dam flooded 156,000 acres of tribal land. More recently, in December of 2016, the Interior Department and Army Corps returned 25,000 acres acquired for the project to the Three Affiliated Tribes. Tribal chairman Mark Fox said, "“The return of these lands is an important step toward mending a historic injustice."

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas

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